Hopes Fade for Alternative to Military Service

  • By Shin Su-ji

    October 21, 2016 12:32

    Hopes are fading for an alternative to Korea's mandatory military service after decades of calls from pacifists and religious groups to spare conscientious objectors the martial ordeal.

    Some 6,088 young men chose prison rather than mandatory military service over the decade from 2006 to 2015, over 99 percent on religious grounds, according to Defense Ministry data Thursday. That boils down to 600 a year, or just 0.24 percent of all 250,000 annual conscripts.

    They are sentenced to a year and a half in jail and must serve the time alongside ordinary criminals.

    Successively more conservative administrations over the last decade have scotched several attempts in the National Assembly to legislate an alternative social service, saying the move is at odds with "public sentiment."

    The last administration to consider the move was President Ro Moo-hyun's in 2007, but it never got round to completing it.

    Korea is in a unique situation among rich industrialized nations in forcing all young men regardless of their convictions to complete military service.

    West Germany introduced alternative service at the height of the Cold War in 1960, with communist East Germany at its doorstep, and even Taiwan permitted alternative service for conscientious objectors on religious grounds in 2000 despite China's continuing claims on the island.

    But opponents say that South Korea is uniquely placed because it remains officially at war with North Korea, and there is insufficient public support for an alternative.

    In data submitted to the National Assembly early this month, the Defense Ministry said alternative service "can be abused" as a way to evade military service, and there is "not enough consensus" seeing it as anything other than a privilege for followers of "certain religions."

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